Finding the Sweet Zone
By John McFarland III
My eyes caught the movement of a duck slowing moving through the water lilies, and the dew covered grass that was emerging forth in the marsh. Its head was jerking to and fro as it foraged its way in my direction. I could tell it was a wood duck drake. Slowly I raised up my Canon EOS Rebel T3i, with a 100-400mm image stabilizer lens, and pushed the lens through the opening in my photo blind. The excitement of the moment was intensifying, as I realized I was about to outwit this particular duck into giving up some photos for my ever growing waterfowl portfolio.
I photographed this particular woody this past spring in my secret sweet zone on Upper Klamath Lake, in Klamath County, Oregon. It was a long time in the making, but in the last five years my success in wood duck photography has accelerated to the point that I refer to my realized achievement as being nuclear. I’m not complaining though, as I consider the wood duck to be one of the most beautiful birds in North America.
Prior to my explosion in wood duck photography, I would set up my photo blind near a piece of driftwood or protruding rock in the water. This was done with the hopes of catching a duck climbing out to rest or preen itself, rather than just photographing a duck swimming by. It was a good idea, and got me some results, but it was still very much more of a miss rather than a hit.
Finally, I stumbled upon the key needed to improve my chances of getting the type of photos that I wanted. The secret was in discovering the sweet zone where wood ducks and waterfowl of different types would congregate in larger numbers to rest and preen themselves. My discovered sweet zone area consists of three driftwood logs spaced about 5-6 yards apart, with the shoreline protruding outward just enough to where I can set up my blind, and photograph across any of the three logs where a duck may decide to sun themselves. My success skyrocketed!
In addition, I came very close to getting a pine martin photo from the sweet zone this past spring. Unfortunately, my excited movement alerted it to possible danger, and it retreated back to where it came from before I was able to push the shutter.
Now that I’ve discovered this sweet zone though, it’s time to make an all-out effort in getting landing and takeoff photos. Until then, I will still work to capture the best driftwood poser photos I can of woodies and other cooperative waterfowl. Whether with a shotgun, or a camera, I wish you all good shooting on your waterfowl adventures.